Ferguson Police Department Chief Tom Jackson was a no-show at the city’s press conference in Missouri Wednesday night, where Mayor James Knowles said the behavior of some police and city officials revealed in a damning report by the Department of Justice “will not be tolerated” and are “in no way representative of the employees of the city of Ferguson.” Knowles, who took no questions during the presser, said one officer has been fired, two others suspended and both the city's police department and court have hired black employees.
Justice Department officials found Ferguson Police Department and municipal court employees engaged in a pattern of racial bias including bigoted emails, unjustified arrests and excessive force. The "searing" report also determined the city’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the city’s focus on revenue rather than public safety needs and African-Americans experience disparate impact in nearly every aspect of the system.
“This investigation found a community that was deeply polarized; a community where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Wednesday.
The exhaustive findings are a culmination of the Justice Department’s 100-day-long investigation involving conversations with Ferguson police, city and court officials, interviews with Ferguson residents and a review of 35,000 pages of documents, a law enforcement official familiar with the departments findings told St. Louis radio KMOX. The investigation began Sept. 4, weeks after Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in the street. A separate Justice Department report -- also released Wednesday -- concluded there wasn't enough credible evidence to bring criminal prosecution against Wilson.
"Today we received disappointing news from the Department of Justice that the killer of our son wouldn't be held accountable for his actions,” Browns parents Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. said in a joint statement Wednesday. "While we are saddened by this decision, we are encouraged that the DOJ will hold the Ferguson Police Department accountable for the pattern of racial bias and profiling they found in their handling of interactions with people of color. It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country. If that change happens, our son's death will not have been in vain."
The review of the city of Ferguson offered 13 suggestions to improve both policing and the courts, including police engagement with the black community and hiring a more diverse force. Since September, Knowles said Wednesday the police department has hired three new employees who are African-American and the municipal court has hired new clerks who are also black. The mayor also created a civilian police oversight board -- the first of its kind in the region where Ferguson citizens can provide input into policies and procedures. The municipal court no longer has a specific offense for failing to appear and has created a new docket for those who have trouble paying fines, which includes payment plan options.
People watching the press conference reacted on social media, calling the press conference the “worst ever” and Jackson a “coward” for not attending. People criticized Knowles for not taking questions during the presser and some even said the Ferguson mayor should be forced to resign. Democratic Committeewoman for Ferguson Township Patricia Bynes told KMOX Wednesday she would like to see Jackson step down and St. Louis County police take over the department.
That press conference in #Ferguson was the worst ever press conference in the history of press conferences. That mayor should be forced out.
â€” Andy R. (@andyacr) March 5, 2015
â€” Jordan B. (@bleednsea84) March 4, 2015
I don't think there's enough sarcasm in the world to properly call out this awful #Ferguson press conference. Folks are tapped out.
â€” Dani (@TheDanimagus) March 5, 2015
St. Louis resident Nathan Burns, 25, told local news station KSDK-TV that racial bias stretches beyond Ferguson. The African-American high school algebra teacher said he has been pulled over more than 20 times by officers from various St. Louis area law enforcement departments in the last eight years. Burns reportedly believes he was targeted because of his race. "There's a culture that has been created," Burns told KSDK-TV Wednesday. "A lot of people want to say racism is over with and that we are past that. But, time doesn't make everything disappear. Ignoring the fact that you have cancer is not going to stop you from having cancer. And, racism is like a cancer that people have been ignoring."
Co-chair of the Ferguson Commission the Rev. Starsky Wilson told KMOX Wednesday he’s not surprised so many black motorists get pulled over in Ferguson. “The biases that we see, or the differences that we see, they disproportionately suggest that African-Americans have incidents with the police department in Ferguson are consistent at the state level,” he reportedly told the St. Louis radio station.
Brandon Smith, 29, told KSDK-TV he is also not surprised by the Justice Department’s findings of racially biased policing in Ferguson. Smith said he moved to St. Louis because he was tired of dealing with the Ferguson police, who allegedly slapped him with bogus fines that prevented him from getting jobs. Smith also said police gave him 21 tickets at one time and he was ticketed more than five times for walking in the road in separate incidents, according to KSDK-TV in St Louis.
The Justice Department report found these minor offenses imposed a particular hardship on black residents and those living in or near poverty in Ferguson, often resulting in debt, jail time and losing one’s driver’s license, employment or housing due to an inability to pay fines. Although blacks make up 67 percent of the population in the St. Louis County suburb, they accounted for 93 percent of arrests made by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014. “Our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur, at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African-Americans,” the report said.